May 2008

Hitting the road

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Another really tough loss today. Matt Cain had a no-hitter going into the fifth and we ended up losing, 13-8. Five losses in a row at home, and now we’re off to Colorado, Florida and Arizona for nine games on the road.

We’re very, very frustrated with what we’ve done so far as a team, I can tell you that. There were times during this homestand that I could hardly move from my locker after a game. I always try to talk to reporters because when I talk to them, I know I’m talking to the fans. But sometimes I take the losses so hard, I can’t talk to anybody.

I know other guys feel the same way. You always feel, if you didn’t come through when you’re needed to, that you let all your teammates down. And you let the fans down. That’s the worst feeling.

Still, you know you have to put it behind you. You have to keep fighting. That’s the only way. You don’t make it very far in baseball if you can’t battle through tough times. There is so much failure in this game that it’s easy to get beaten down by it. The ones who DON’T let it crush them are the ones who survive at the Major League level. And believe me when I tell you that this is a team not just of survivors, but of warriors. When we get to the ballpark in Colorado, we’ll put a fence around this awful loss and be ready to go 150 percent.

Part of what I do to get ready at the start of each series is to study the inch-and-a-half-thick scouting report on our opponent. Right now, I’m on the plane from San Francisco to Denver and going through the reports on each batter for the Rockies: How have they been swinging lately? What percentage of the time do they swing at curve balls, sliders, fastballs? What do they want when they get one strike? Two strikes?  How do they run?

Steve Holm is sitting in the row in front of me, and he’s going through the same stack of papers. We talk about the hitters and get an idea on how to pitch to each one, how to get each one out. At the ballpark, we’ll watch videos of the Rockies’ last few games with Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner, the pitching coach and bullpen coach. Those two guys are very, very prepared for every team. It’s amazing how much homework they do. So we go over the lineup together and come up with a plan for every batter.

Of course, once the game starts, what we prepared for and what actually happens could be totally different things. A batter might not do anything that the scouting report said he would. So Holmy and I have to be ready to adjust. Between innings, we’ll consult with each other and with Righetti about the next three guys in the order. Sometimes, in the dugout, I’ll look at the scouting report again to refresh my memory about a particular guy. Then, after all the hours of preparation, it’s up to the pitcher to make the pitch.

Two real positives of this homestand were Omar Vizquel’s return from the disabled list and Tim Lincecum’s continued great pitching. Omar is always so motivated and happy that he lifts everyone up. We feel pretty secure when he’s out on the field. Not taking anything away from the younger guys, but Omar is a veteran, a future Hall of Famer, and when he’s out there, we all feel pretty good.

People have been asking me what makes Lincecum special. The first thing I say is he has a great heart. He’s not afraid of anything. He’s not afraid of getting hit. His skills, of course, are amazing: He throws over 95 mph, has a great changeup, a great slider and curve. But what makes him so good, at least in great part, is that he believes no one can hit him. Sometimes pitchers give too much respect to batters. But Lincecum always seems to believe that no matter how great the batter’s reputation, he’s better, and he’s going to get him out.

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OK, I should get back to studying this scouting report. Thanks for checking in. I’ll try to write more often. But I admit, when we lose, I’m not very eager to share my thoughts.

And during homestands, I’m trying to spend as much time with my family as I can, so I run out of time for anything but family and baseball. I took my younger daughter to the Exploratorium on Saturday and had a great time. What an amazing place. She thought it was awesome. Then after the game Saturday night, I took her into the batting cage behind the dugout and tossed balls to her. I was still in my uniform and dog-tired. But she was so happy that we stayed until about 11. She flew back today to Yuma, where she lives with her mother.

The toughest part of any homestand, besides letting go of the losses, is saying good-bye.

Be patient with young players — and me

I imagine there were more than a few people cursing at their TVs back in the Bay Area at the end of game Sunday against the Phillies. Velez let a grounder slip under his glove and the Phillies scored the winning run. It’s frustrating to watch from the dugout, too, but we know we have a team of very young guys who are going to make mistakes. And we know they want to win as much as any of us.

These are really, really good players and we have to have patience with them. Don’t get me wrong. It’s tough, for sure. It’s really, really hard to see a game slip away like that. But these guys are going to be great players for the Giants. They have a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm. They’re young and still learning how to play in the big leagues. I tell them when they make a mistake there’s no time to get down on themselves because there’s another game tomorrow. There’s not time for feeling bad. Learn from the mistake, turn the page and move on.

I promised to answer your questions in this post, so here goes.

Zman asked what my teammates and I do with our fan mail. I try to sign all the cards I get right away and send them back. I used to put them aside and promise myself to get to them later but then they piled up. So I now open the envelopes and sign — I mostly receive baseball cards. Sorry you didn’t get yours back, Zman. Try me again.

Hgravity, I’ll do my best to remember to tell Steve Holm that Steve Corey Watts said hi.

Aubrey wanted to know if it’s weird playing against my brothers. The answer is yes, it’s weird in every sense of the word. It’s weird and tough, really, really tough. On the one hand, you want him to do great, but at the same time, I play for San Francisco. I say to Yadier, “You try to get me out because I’ll be trying to get you out.” We kept it professional on the field then after the game, we’re brothers again. We’ll ask each other, now why didn’t you guys try to move the runner over? Strategy things.

I know someone asked about my equipment (but now I can’t find the question — sorry to whoever wrote it). I choose whatever equipment I like. Major League Baseball and the Giants don’t have rules on which company you can and can’t use. Right now I use Reebok equipment. The most important thing for me is making sure my legs are comfortable, my knees especially.

I was happy to have a day off Monday to refresh my legs. Looking forward to the Pittsburgh series — then back home. We love playing at AT&T in front of our own fans. The fans give us that little extra energy to pull us through — and we need it with all the tight games we’ve been in lately.

Thanks for writing — and reading. I’ll check in again soon.

On Z, and a mysterious balk

We’re in Philadelphia,
about to start a three-game series against the first-place Phillies.

Obviously a lot happened during the final days of our homestand,
the biggest news being Barry Zito’s reassignment to the bullpen. Tonight would
be his usual turn in the rotation and instead Pat Misch will take the mound for
his first start of the season.

It’s hard to know what to think about Z going to the
bullpen. We’ve just got to go with it and understand that moves are made to put
us in a better position to win. We have no control over the decision. We have
to just try to understand it as much as we can.

What we can do is make sure Z knows we’re right behind him
100 percent no matter what happens. Right now his mind is probably going crazy
with this situation. So we pretty much have given him his space and haven’t
said much to him. But later, when things settle down a bit, every time I talk
to him I’ll let him know we’re behind him, that this is a team effort and we’ll
all get through this together.

I remember going through a really tough time in 2001 when I
was so low I wondered if I could even play anymore. I had a right hamstring
injury that put me on the DL for two months. I wanted to prove that I could
play the entire season every single year – and then running to third base one
day in May of 2001 I heard a pop and I could barely take another step. It was
such a setback because I was in just my second full season in the Big Leagues.

I let myself get really down for a while. Then I realized
that the best way to deal with failure and adversity is to face it. Face what
you’re doing and tell yourself you’re struggling now but it’s not forever. You
have to face each day with a positive mind.

Rafael Palmeiro gave me the best advice about how to deal
with slumps and setbacks. Maybe you’re not swinging well. You don’t know what’s
going on. He told me, “Hey, it doesn’t matter how bad you feel, how horrible
you’re going. Every time you step to the plate, you tell yourself you’re the
best guy out there. You’re the man. That guy can’t get you out.”

I figured, if that’s the approach of Hall of Fame caliber
guys, then that’s what I’d do too. Every day after that – which was early in my
career, 2001, 2002 maybe – every single day, I take a positive mind onto the
field. I tell myself, “You’re better than that guy on the mound. He can’t touch
you.” You give credit to him when he gets you out, but until then you don’t
give him anything.

I think the same approach applies in lots of aspects of
life. If you have a problem and you’re not feeling good, you don’t go into work
or school all mad and make everybody else miserable. If you let your mind tell
you that you’re horrible, you’re going to be horrible. If you let your mind
tell you you’re going to fail, you’re going to fail. Ninety-five percent of
life is about your mind. It dictates what you’re going to do and what you’re
going to be.

I learned this lesson on the baseball field, but I use it in
raising my two girls. I use it in my personal relationships and my business
dealings. If you go out there expecting to succeed – expecting not only to
succeed but to be the best – you give yourself a really good shot at succeeding
and maybe even being best.

Sounds pretty simple, but of course it isn’t. If it were
that simple, Z would be on the mound tonight starting against the Phillies. He
has so much heart and so much desire that I know he’ll get through this. It
will take all of us – the coaches, the staff, his teammates. He’s going to be
great again. I don’t have any doubt.

The other news from the home stand was the balk call against
Tim Lincecum.

Here’s what happened. . There was a runner on third, and we
had a play called for Tim to throw over there at that moment. I saw Timmy was
in a windup instead of the stretch. He can’t throw to third from the windup. I
immediately called time-out. But obviously Tim was already started, and he
stopped as soon as I called time. The ump also called time then he suddenly
called a balk.

I told the ump he called timeout, too, and he said he never
called it. Of course, the TV replays show clearly he DID call it, and that’s
why Timmy stopped. He didn’t stop because he was trying to deceive the runner –
which is the whole reason behind having the balk rule. So it definitely should
not have been a balk.

It was a horrible way to lose a game. We were all really
angry about it. It’s just not a way to lose a game. If we lose by getting our
butts kicked, OK. But you never want to lose like that.

But it’s over now and we have to just think about the
Phillies tonight.

In my next blog, I’ll answer the questions you have asked.
Thanks again for reading and writing and being such great, supportive fans.